Performing American Identity: the plays of David Henry Hwang

Johnson, Martha (2017) Performing American Identity: the plays of David Henry Hwang. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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    What does it mean to perform an American identity? From the time of his
    breakout play, FOB, in 1980, playwright David Henry Hwang has grappled with this
    question. Over the 35 years of his career, he has consistently been described as a
    Chinese American, or Asian American, playwright and his work does indeed reflect
    aspects of the Asian American drama movement of the 1980’s and 1990’s, as it does
    also aspects of US multiculturalism in general. He has staged stories of the Chinese
    American experience and explored questions of race, culture, and identity.
    The term Asian American is itself, however, contested and complex. Meanwhile,
    Hwang’s privileged and Christian upbringing has bred suspicion of his right to interpret
    and stage the experience of the broader Asian American community.
    In his plays, Hwang reinforces stereotypes, while simultaneously undermining
    them. The result is a view of identity defined by, but resistant to, definitions based on
    race, culture, and gender.
    Few playwrights from marginalized ethnic groups have enjoyed mainstream
    success in the US. Hwang has. In contrast to previous Asian American playwrights, who
    have struggled to find an audience beyond their identity-based theatre companies,
    Hwang’s plays seem to transcend specific personal, racial, or cultural experience, and
    as a consequence have been widely produced, published, studied, and anthologized.
    Most of Hwang’s plays are inspired by works in the American dramatic canon,
    suggesting his desire to situate the Asian American experience in the broader American
    In this study, I will analyze selected plays by David Henry Hwang. I will consider
    Hwang’s role as a voice for Asian Americans and the implications of that role. I will
    place his work in the context of the broader discourse on American identity and argue
    that is it insufficient to overly privilege his Asian identity in reading his work. Finally, I will
    explore some of the reasons his work transcends the confines of racial or cultural
    identity, and has found a place in the American dramatic canon.

    Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
    Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of American Studies
    Depositing User: Jackie Webb
    Date Deposited: 01 May 2018 10:04
    Last Modified: 01 May 2018 10:04

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